Discord between marketing and sales departments is an age-old story.
The marketing team gets annoyed at the sales team for failing to follow up on leads and in return. The sales team is annoyed with the marketing team for generating low-quality leads in the first place.
As it turns out—neither team is wrong. Research shows the average sales team ignores 50% of marketing leads. And, conversely, 61% of B2B marketers send all leads directly to sales, yet only 27% of those leads are qualified.
The good news is that when your sales and marketing teams are working together, you win. In fact, companies with strong sales and marketing alignment achieve a 20% annual growth rate and enjoy a 36% higher customer retention rate as well as 38% higher sales wins.
If you’re ready to get your marketing and sales teams on the same page, keep reading. Today we provide you with several tried and true tactics to facilitate better alignment between your marketing and sales organizations.
8 Methods for Better Sales & Marketing Alignment
1. Get executive buy-in and prioritize company-wide adoption.
In order for your marketing and sales teams to truly come together, you must communicate the importance of sales and marketing alignment and prioritize it as a business initiative. Start by getting executive buy-in.
Whether you meet with marketing and sales leadership alone or involve all your executives in the initial conversations, it’s important to come to this first meeting prepared. Use numbers and data to highlight just how harmful misalignment is and ultimately, how much money it’s caused you to lose as an organization.
The following metrics will give you a good idea of how aligned the two teams are:
Percentage of marketing leads that sales follows up with.
If this number is extremely low, you know you have one of two problems: the leads generated by marketing aren’t good enough, or sales isn’t doing a good enough job with the sales follow-up. In most cases, it’s a combination of the two.
Percentage of marketing-generated leads that result in opportunities.
This number will give you better insight into the quality of leads marketing is generating. High sales follow-up and minimal opportunities indicates low quality leads.
Average number of touches it takes to convert a prospect into a customer.
How many times must sales or marketing communicate with a prospect before they actually make a purchase? Is this number higher or lower for marketing generated leads? If this number is lower than the average, your marketing team is likely generating high-quality leads.
Once you’ve established just how big the gap is between marketing and sales, use these same numbers to illustrate how much more successful your organization would be if your teams were aligned.
Once leadership is on board, it’s up to each of your executives to communicate to their individual teams. Although marketing and sales alignment starts at the top, it can’t just stay there. Everyone in an organization must be involved and willing to participate.
This brings us to step number two:
2. Create and maintain an open line of communication between the two departments.
Did you know only 30% of CMOs have a clear process or program to make marketing and sales alignment a priority? To bridge the widening gap between the two departments, you must create and document a definitive, inter-department communication strategy.
We suggest that you start by holding an ongoing meeting to agree upon the answers to the following questions:
- What does the marketing team need from the sales team?
- What does the sales team need from the marketing team?
- From start to finish, what does the standard sales cycle look like?
- Do marketing leads typically have a good understanding of products and services prior to talking to the sales team?
- What are the agreed upon buyer personas each team is working with?
- Which content and campaigns tend to attract the most high-quality leads?
- What does a good lead look like?
- A bad lead?
- What can each team do better?
Once both teams come together to answer these questions it’s important to continue having regular meetings to distribute reports, discuss progress, and come up with ideas to further improve marketing and sales alignment.
3. Come up with shared definitions and goals.
One of the leading causes of misaligned marketing and sales teams is the fact that the two departments often operate with separate goals and success metrics. Think about it—if a marketing team is told to generate a certain type of lead without any input from sales, how do they know if they’re even targeting the right type of buyer?
For this reason, it’s vital that you establish a shared set of goals and universal definitions. We recommend the following:
Develop a shared plan that maps leads to prospects and prospects to revenue. Identify “fit factors” to help score leads. Firmographic information like company size, industry, location, and tech stack can determine whether a company is a good or bad fit, as well as demographic information like a contact’s title or their budgetary control.
Agree upon the definition of a marketing qualified lead (MQL) and a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)—and get specific. Some organizations go so far as to break down the difference between “warm” and “hot” leads. The more specific your definitions, the less room there is for misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Think big picture:
Take a full-funnel-view of conversion rates and costs—meaning, constantly analyze where leads come from, how much they cost, which ones turn into revenue, and ultimately, which campaigns can you duplicate to generate more of them.
Report and Communicate:
Only use shared dashboards and reports. Meet regularly to discuss your findings.
Constantly challenge assumptions and improve the customer acquisition and retention processes.
Sales & Marketing Alignment Case Study:
At ZoomInfo, Marketing-Qualified Leads (MQLs) are broken into two categories:
- Hot MQLs: these are “hand-raisers”—people who have requested more information and are expecting to hear from you.
- Warm MQLs: potential customers that show implicit interest through their behavior, but don’t actually request more information.
Our sales and marketing leaders created a value system for content assets: assigning gated assets a higher score – such as a webinar registration, or an ebook download. Other activities, such as reading a blog, earn a lower score.
Now, leaders in both departments agree on a lead score that they consider “warm”: that is, at what point Marketing passes the leads over for Sales to follow up.
4. Establish a Service Level Agreement—or SLA.
For those who aren’t familiar, a Service Level Agreement (SLA) is a type of formal contract between Marketing and Sales. This contract outlines exactly what each department is responsible for and should be created during initial meetings between marketing and sales leadership.
Using the goals and definitions mentioned in the previous section, set clear expectations for each team and the metrics you’ll use to measure success. Marketing goals can include things like leads generated, qualified leads generated, opportunities created, and revenue. Sales goals should include follow-up time, follow-up frequency, and the percentage of leads sales is expected to follow-up with.
Although this may seem a bit formal and unnecessary, it’s an important step to take if you want to achieve marketing and sales alignment. In fact, research shows that companies who have an active SLA are (source):
- 34% more likely to experience greater year-over-year ROI than companies who don’t have an SLA.
- 21% more likely to get greater budget allocations than companies who don’t have an SLA.
- And, 31% more likely to be hiring additional sales reps to meet demand.
Sales & Marketing Alignment Case Study:
Here at ZoomInfo, our own success with an SLA for inbound leads serves as a testament to its value as a marketing and sales alignment tool.
ZoomInfo had long struggled with warm MQLs. We tried giving them to our sales development team, then tried our special sales SWAT team. No matter what we tried, we couldn’t get the conversion rate above 4%.
To align our sales and marketing teams, ZoomInfo created a sales role 100% dedicated to calling warm marketing qualified Leads. (Yes, calling them.)
Our conversion rate went from that stubborn 4% to 15%! We found the sweet spot 150 dials (yes, dials) per day.
If your warm MQLs aren’t converting at a rate that delivers enough revenue, consider increasing your lead score threshold to ensure those leads are truly interested and a good fit for your product or service.
5. Evaluate and remove lead channels with low conversion rates
Even if they deliver tons of leads, you should drop, or reconfigure channels that deliver leads that don’t convert. These can be in the form of paid content syndication, a social media channel, display advertising, or anything else.
If business resources are being spent on something that isn’t effective, that budget could be invested elsewhere with a higher return.
Since marketing KPIs are often centered around volume of leads, views, and clicks, a channel that delivers a lot of leads is usually a good thing. But the story doesn’t stop there. Together, the two teams must keep their eyes on the actual goal: revenue.
If Sales can’t convert them to customers, everyone is wasting their time—no matter how many leads are produced.
6. Re-target cold leads.
This idea may raise a few eyebrows: Retarget your cold leads? The people who weren’t interested?
Yep. Here’s how:
Together, Sales and Marketing identify cold, or “stalled” opportunities that aren’t progressing. Marketing then applies account-based marketing tactics by re-marketing to them: putting them into a nurture email campaign, serving them display ads, targeting them with direct mail … then have Sales start calling again.
Alignment is critical for this strategy. There may be a good reason why the lead or opportunity was closed. It may not have been a good fit. Additionally, to ensure a coherent story and logical progression, Sales and Marketing must be aligned on the process and progression.
When we started retargeting closed opportunities with a combined Sales-Marketing play at ZoomInfo, our win rate was 80% higher than our regular win rate on these leads.
7. Tag-team at events.
Events are expensive, but they can be a treasure trove of great leads: A large room of leads that are largely pre-qualified simply by being there. However, as with most business success—it takes two to tango. An event can be a smashing success if Sales and Marketing work together.
Consider this tag-team scenario:
You are sponsoring a conference for recruiters in Austin, Texas. How can sales and marketing teams work together to maximize the quality and quantity of leads gathered?
- Look at the conference roster and social media to see who will be there. Next, identify which of those businesses are a good fit for your company’s solution.
- Consider what titles these companies are likely to send—probably a local sales development manager—and segment the lead list by geolocation (not the headquarter location. These can be different).
- From there, build a targeted contact list and craft a super-specific message for their role and the experience they’re hoping to get at the show. Email these clients and prospects before the show. Perhaps invite them to stop by your booth, or to an off-site dinner or happy hour with a sales rep.
- Make sure your attending sales rep has this list of target names, and makes plans to visit and/or reach out to every single one while they’re on location.
- Make sure to follow up within a day or two of returning home!
Now, when Sales attends the event, they’re meeting prospects who have heard of your company, are familiar with the value proposition, and they’re a lot more likely to take your sales rep up on an invitation to coffee or happy hour!
The sales rep can take even more advantage of the investment in the event by meeting with existing clients and keeping existing relationships warm and positive.
In this way, you can return from the event with a long list of meetings, next steps, and booked demos.
That’s a whole lot warmer than a stack of business cards.
Again, unless Sales and Marketing work together before, during, and after the event, you won’t see great results.
8. Invest in technology that supports alignment.
The simplest way to bridge the communication gap between marketing and sales is to work with technologies that integrate. When platforms integrate, data and workflows are no longer kept in separate silos. This facilitates better communication and gives each team more insight into the other’s daily activities, best practices, and common challenges.
When building your technology stack, consider your CRM, your B2B contact database, prospecting tools, content management systems, and any other tools your team utilizes. Be sure each of these tools is accessible to each team and work together with one another.
Key Takeaways for Aligning Sales & Marketing
Marketing and sales alignment is no longer optional. Businesses that align the visions and goals of their marketing and sales departments enjoy increased revenue and profit growth compared to businesses that do not:
- B2B companies with aligned sales and marketing teams saw 24% faster three-year revenue growth, and 27% faster three-year profit growth (source).
- 56% of aligned organizations met their revenue goals, and 19% beat their goals. Among misaligned organizations, by comparison, just 37% met their revenue goals, and just 7% beat them (source).
Reap the benefits of a tightly aligned organization! Use the steps above to get your teams on the same page today.
This post was updated April 16, 2020